TOKYO -- Honda Motor Co. will raise annual output capacity in North America by 100,000 automobiles to 1.5 million by March 2008, a paper reported on Friday, but the company said it is not yet ready for such an expansion.
Honda, Japan's third-biggest carmaker, sees strong demand for its new Ridgeline pickup truck -- its first model in the lucrative sector -- and SUVs in the United States, but will concentrate on boosting production at the Alabama plant for the time being, a Honda spokeswoman said.
"Our top priority for now is to raise annual production at a new production line at the Alabama plant to our target of 150,000 units by the end of this year," she said. "There are no detailed future capacity expansion plans for now."
The Nihon Keizai newspaper reported on Friday that Honda plans to boost capacity at the Alabama plant to 400,000 units from 300,000 through upgrades to its two lines, raising total annual output capacity in North America to 1.5 million over the next three years.
It said the company will consolidate production of the Pilot SUV, currently being partly made at its Canadian plant, in Alabama and increase Ridgeline production.
The second line at Alabama is approaching full capacity and Honda expects higher production to help raise sales in the key U.S. market by 4 percent 1.45 million cars in 2005.
Its Ridgeline pickup trucks and new Civic compact will help it outpace many rivals in the U.S. again this year, analysts say.
Honda operates four assembly plants in North America.
Japan's big three automakers -- Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda -- are making serious inroads in the U.S. market, the world's biggest, taking away share from General Motors and Ford Motor Co.
Japanese brands account for 32.1 percent of the market.
The two Detroit heavyweights reported another month of lower U.S. vehicle sales on Wednesday as demand slowed for fuel-thirsty SUVs, while Asian makers led by Nissan extended gains.
Media reports said Toyota plans to build another plant in Canada, its seventh in North America, to produce 100,000 to 150,000 subcompact cars a year as early as 2008.
The world's second-biggest automaker, which produces the Camry sedan and Prius hybrid, plans to spend about 50 billion yen to build the plant near its existing Canadian facility in the province of Ontario.